Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Bad Bookisms?

I've read a lot lately about bookisms. What are bookisms, you might ask? They are the tag at the end of dialoge. For example, "I hate you," she hissed. Hissed is the bookism.

In the writing world, it's a big no-no to use bookisms. Common ones are: cried out, shriek, bawled, laughed, sniffed, shouted, whispered, explained, screamed, demanded, whimpered, etc. You get the idea.

But how bad are bookisms really? Obviously if they are overdone, they can be very distracting to the reader. Your dialogue should be strong enough that your reader doesn't need to be told what your main character is doing when when she speaks.

That being said, you can pick up just about any book and find bookisms. It's the writers that really notice and are annoyed by bookisms. Ask your average reader and most likely they could care less if a character "hissed" something. It's the writers that say, "How can a person hiss something? Snakes hiss, not people." Or I've heard writers say, when seeing the line, "You're funny!" she laughed, how can a person laugh and speak?

Readers are smart. They don't take everything literally. They're not thrown out of the story because of hissing and laughing. BUT as writers and professionals, we really should try to avoid them.

What bookisms bother you?

9 comments:

Mac said...

We writers are INDEED the worst critics. I never noticed such things before I became an 'educated' writer.

I'm known for a favorite cliche, though (I know, I know)--'All things in moderation.'

Margo Lerwill said...

Most bookisms bother me. They are usually tells, indicating to the reader how to interpret dialogue too weak for the meaning to be clear all on its own. I'd rather read and write good dialogue.

K. Turley (Clutzattack) said...

I like the "hissed" bookism but my betas are always telling me you can't hiss something unless it ends in 'S'.

J. A. Bennett said...

That is freaky picture! I think writers tend to use bookisims becasue it gets boring to write 'said' all the time. The trick is to mix it up without getting too crazy. If only I could figure out how to do that, we'd be good :)

Maeve Frazier said...

I agree with J. A. Bennett - mix it up a little. Nice post. Gets you thinking!

Laura C. said...

Yikes! Creepy snake!
The longer I write, the more I find that 'rules' don't apply. You have to have a great story, interesting characters, and write it well, but not convolute your prose to adhere to rules. For instance, some of my favorite authors "tell," use lots of adverbs and bookisms, and write in fragments or run-on-sentences. And they're on the NYT bestseller lists. We're overcritical of ourselves...

carrieannebrownian said...

I used bookisms a lot when I was younger, but I don't think you necessarily always have to avoid them. Sometimes I think they work in the context of certain scenes or dialogues.

I read in Olga Litowinsky's (probably now out of print) Writing and Publishing Books for Children in the 1990s that you should only have a character "hiss" a line if the line contains at least one letter S.

Jennifer said...

Bookisms don't actually bother me unless they are really overdone. I noticed a lot of bookisms when I recently read "The Picture of Dorian Gray" - perhaps it is also a literary fashion of sort? I wonder about this because I remember being taught to use bookisms in grammar school. Now, it seems to be a pet hate of many.

Amie Kaufman said...

The only bookisms that really bother me are the over the top ones -- 'expostulated' or 'exclaimed'. I don't mind a hiss or two at all! I think a well placed bookism can actually set the scene really well.